This sonnet is number seven of eight in an elegiac sequence of sonnets about Seamus Heaney’s mother.
The sequence begins with poems about his mother’s family - in which he describes memories of life with his mother - and ends after her death in 1984.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti said that a sonnet is “a moment’s monument”. This sonnet - about one short incident observed and felt at his mother’s death bed - captures a poignant moment.
The sonnet is written in a typically controlled manner with fourteen decasyllabic lines.
The tightly controlled form therefore is striking in that it seems to contrast with the intense personal emotion it is used to convey.
As with many traditional sonnets there is a turn - or volta - in the eighth line of the poem.
The first section of the sonnet concerns the speaker’s father’s interactions with his wife. But in line eight in a very abrupt “Then she was dead”, the speaker’s mother dies.